Going from a critical care nurse and single mother to being highlighted on the Today Show as a chocolatier seems like something only dreams are made of, but Diane Pinder did just that.
After quitting her job as a critical care nurse and moving into marketing and education, Pinder thought about owning a store specializing in gift baskets, but eventually honed in on chocolate, taking classes in New York and interning with a chocolatier in Connecticut. She originally named her shop Donna & Company, after her younger sister, Donna, who died at age 15 when she was struck by a car while riding a bicycle. Pinder loves the opportunity to talk about her every day.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
First and foremost from my father, who was obsessed with the Galloping Gourmet and Julia Child. He worked for Proctor and Gamble’s Duncan Hines cake mix and would bring the “test” chocolate brownies home. We always had a freezer full of them. During the workday, chocolate cake mix would fall into my father’s socks. When he came home we would gather around to see what the test cake was and our dogs would gather to sniff his socks. If he wasn’t careful when he pulled off the socks, the dogs would grab hold and go to a corner to chew them to pieces.
Once I developed my skill in making chocolate, I continued my education, much the same as what I would do when I was in nursing.
It wasn’t until a 2006 chocolate-making tour of Tuscany, however, that I was able to focus my philosophy about chocolate. Tuscan chocolate is noted for its bold flavors, fresh ingredients and a rustic look. My Tuscan hosts helped me name my high-end line of chocolates, Donna Toscana.
The CocoaBee line of chocolates became my focus on using what was locally sourced in New Jersey, which is known as the Garden State, and has so many resources to get wonderful ingredients from, such as the honey from local apiaries.
Let’s talk about your new Fundamental Chocolate. Why did you decide to include honey in this product?
I was asked by a customer to develop a chocolate for individuals who sought a product that was gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free and free of processed sugar. While there are many sugar substitutes such as agave, stevia, etc., that present themselves as natural, realistically speaking they are all processed. A few years ago I started using natural honey as a sweetener, so when I read more about honey I discovered it was an emulsifier, which you need in chocolate. It was a match made in heaven.
There’s a definite clean label with Fundamental, only three ingredients: honey, organic cacao and organic cocoa butter.
Why do you believe less is more in the world of chocolates?
The cocoa mass I use to make Fundamental is a premium product. It is not one- dimensional in its flavor. As you eat it, there are layers of flavor from start to finish and even lingering flavors. To add other ingredients to mask that would be a sin. So, I chose not to add vanilla and choose only complementary toppings to the flavor in the chocolate. So, for example, one of the cocoa mass I use has red fruit notes so I use that to go with the dried raspberry topping. The roasted pistachio is paired with a more earthy Ecuadorian cocoa mass.
Your CocoaBee Honey Caramels also use many natural ingredients. What is the inspiration behind these?
The flavors for the honey caramels like the blueberry and cranberry are specifically chosen because these are two fruits that are grown and harvested in New Jersey.
Why do you love working with honey?
Not only because it is clean and natural, but because it is very important to support the industry and help to get rid of colony collapse. I am not sure if it is said in other states, but the mantra in New Jersey is that without bees you would not have food.
Honey in my Donna Toscana truffles helps to extend shelf life and nicely balances the flavors.
Do you have any plans for more candy with honey products in the future?
Of course. I have caramels flavored with balsamic vinegars and sea salts, just to be different and an idea I learned in Tuscany. These are not chocolate coated. I also am planning to do truffles that are clean label driven by a project that I did with students from the Rutger’s Food Science program.
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